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|[ 10-Aug-07]||["Building Community" Project]|
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|Our A/C Initiative held a potluck supper April 29, and we learned from it. Here’s a summary:
(1) PURPOSE. “Building Community.”
The best communities have community churches. No matter how diverse the community nor pluralistic its congregations, this is true. Maybe it's because communication is more meaningful, a theme sounded by Robert Putnam (Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, 2001). Indiana University's Polis Project affirms. People with richer “social capital” (who people know -- their networks of business, professional, and personal connections) are better informed, more creative, more efficient, better problem solvers, and healthier.
We get "community" from cum (with) and munus (gift, service), meaning a group who give to one another and are mutually supportive. Martin Buber philosophised this was crucial. Hw wrote we should “restore, sustain, and nurture stable and cooperative human relationships” by means of “day-to-day experience of individuals involved real equality and a sense of common ownership of the whole in the specific institutional settings in which they worked and lived” (I and Thou, 1925).
TV, PCs, mobility, and globalization all weaken community. People dwell private interests. We cool to community endeavors. We prefer the politics of individual liberty, privacy, and property. Gar Alperovitz frames it concisely in “The Reconstruction of Community Meaning” (1996).
Both urban neighborhoods and mainline community churches have splintered. “During the second half of the century, this established center was gradually de-centered. The city’s geography, culture, economy, and political power all became more dispersed; its mainline religious hegemony became increasingly riven. Other religious communities became more autonomously prominent, including the evangelical traditions of working-class Southern whites, African-Americans, and other ethnic minorities” (“Sacred Circles and Public Squares: Religion De- and Re-Centered in Indianapolis and the Nation.”
Robert Putnam sees the nation's "social capital" as declining. In each General Social Survey since 1974, respondents have been asked, "How often do you spend a social evening with a neighbor?" The proportion who socialize with their neighbors more than once a year has steadily declined. From 1974 to 1993 it dropped from 72% to 61%. Concomitantly socializing with "friends who do not live in your neighborhood" is increasing.
The Surveys disturbingly indicate that Americans are even becoming more suspicious. Those saying that "most people can be trusted" fell by more than a third between 1960 and 1993 (58% down to 37%). The slide holds true for all educational groups. Probably this too is related to the loss of community.
Church attendance reflects the trend. Traditional community congregations dwindle as mega-churches thrive. Americans seem as religious as ever, but are worshiping less traditionally and less locally.
For instance, the Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago attracts 15,000 members to weekend services with live bands, contemporary music, creative drama, and multimedia shows. This modish approach may include removal of Christian symbolism, ecclesiastical language, the organ, robes and the altar – in a sense, almost everything sacred and symbolic about Christianity. Willow Creek’s fitness center and food court more resemble a business complex.
But modishness is not the key. The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City attracts 13,000 by appealing to families of former churchgoers who had stopped attending services. It succeeded by creating a church for young adults reminiscent of ones from their youth, and by not watering down its message. Might the real key be authenticity? Might we probe for how people picture an ideal community? Even in religious life, “malls” and “e-commerce” displace “corner stores.” They might have “bargains” and “variety,” but offer less “personal attention” and “service.” What do we miss most about the last generation or two? Both church and neighborhood need to discover what people still care about, are willing to spend time addressing, and feel we are able to affect.
How about Cherrywood? Our neighborhood has intriguing parts. Besides 3000+ neighbors we have a good association, businesses, churches, non-profits, parks, restaurants, and schools. Each is aware of the others. The parts reinforce one another:
How much farther? The next rung up might be more social occasions where we get know each other better, and trade reflections on matters of common personal concern. This rung would add social capital. It would yield commensurate benefits.
(2) GETTING TOGETHER. Potluck suppers? What else?
Potlucks are easy and fun. They have minimal planning, minimal cleanup, choices, and surprises. We should do it again. Next time maybe we should experiment with:
We still need to see what format works best, topical or free discussion? A little of both? Should we invite a guest speaker? Make available beforehand a common reading, organize fun activity for young children, or brainstorm for ideas for future gatherings.
At our first "Mardi Gras" meeting we generated a rich list of ideas. There is even a Web site devoted to ways to build “social capital.” Participants have suggested combining social events with topical discussion. So now we're looking at occasional week night potluck suppers, and at inviting knowledgeable guests to help us probe a matière du jour . We' need to experiment.
What other questions might be interesting:
(4) FIRST RUMBLINGS. What actions are starting up?
(a) Corner sign. The existing “Asbury” sign might be modified to announce both church and neighborhood events. It should function as a reminder, not as a principal medium. The original sign is triangular. The corner facing the corner could be replaced with a marquee for changeable messages, gently lit by spots on the ground. Modifying it would require blacksmithing, wiring, and installing a new face. It would:
(b) Host Teatro Vivo? JoAnn and Ruperto Reyes have inquired about arranging for rehearsal space at Asbury. Hopefully after the current production they will inspect the premises to see how well their company’s needs might be accommodated.
(c) Community wireless. George Holcombe, Terry Dyke, amd I have talked with local people who provide such services to learn more about the options, their benefits, and their costs.
“Building Community" should replace “Asbury / Cherrywood Initiative.” All aspects of the project now are turning toward building community.
|Examples of community networks (US)
|ASBURY / CHERRYWOOD INITIATIVE (05Feb8; Mar8)
Asbury United Methodist would like to be more of a community church with a more robust membership. Its current members are an interesting lot and energetic. Many are retired with a well of life experiences.. The sanctuary (built in 1957) is beautiful and peaceful. The congregation was founded in 1948, and though many now live elsewhere, they maintain roots in this neighborhood. The physical facility is centrally located with parking and bus service. Asbury graciously provides space for community activities, neighborhood meetings, and voting. Their pastor, George Holcombe, could only be described as enthusiastic. They bring all these resources to the table. Cherrywood, for its part, has some 2000 homes and 3500-4000 residents including several large apartment complexes. The Neighborhood Association communicates with most homes via a quarterly newsletter (The Flea), and with some 20% of them regularly via e-mail (NeighborNet) and Web (Cherrywood.Org). CNA organizes or supports a range of volunteer projects designed to enrichen residents’ quality of life. It is the neighborhood voice in City affairs. The neighborhood prizes our local institutions – churches, non-profits, parks, and schools – and wishes to see them all thrive. The sum total of all these various contributions make residing in Cherrywood more meaningful, more pleasant, and safer. CNA leadership is collective and strong. The Census Bureau profile of 78722 is < http://www.city-data.com/zips/78722.html >.Asbury and Cherrywood together have been busily considering how we might join hands to further our shared interest. Some areas seem especially promising. On Feb 8 we gathered to brainstorm and to draw up the biggest list we could. Next will be for each side to consider which these ideas may be worth pursuing, and to focus on those of common interest to both Asbury and CNA.= BUILDING =
4 I believe the neighborhood has enough people interested in yoga, tai chi, pilates, etc that if the facility was made available for these kinds of classes at a fair price, this could be viable. Voice, music and art, sewing classes---a writing group, book clubs....it seems that there are never enough spaces for this kind of thing. It would be great to have these in a walkable distance. (Iumi)
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